Liza Looking for Payback
Tue Dec 17, 3:15 PM ET
By Lia Haberman

If at first you don't succeed, sue.

Liza Minnelli and David Gest--the oddest duo since the coupling of Michael Jackson and, well, anybody--have slapped VH1 with a $23 million lawsuit over the music network's cancellation of their reality series Liza and David before it ever aired.

Minnelli and fourth husband Gest, a high-powered entertainment deal-broker, enlisted the help of attorney Mickey Sherman to make the music network pay. (Sherman, you may recall, represented Kennedy clan member Michael Skakel in his recent Connecticut murder trial. Minnelli and Gest must feel lucky, Skakel was found guilty.)

Sherman filed the lawsuit Monday in New York State Supreme Court. The couple is seeking damages for defamation and breach of contract. They're hoping the multimillion-dollar request will let the healing begin.

The suit hardly came as a surprise. In a New York Times article last month, Sherman explained that he had been retained to explore every option possible, lawyer-speak for "we're going to sue."

Reached Tuesday, Sherman said his clients were ready for a fight. "These are not na´ve, inexperienced people, they are both professionals. They knew what they were getting into and did their best to make the best show possible." The multimillion-dollar claim is, "reasonable and appropriate," he told E! Online.

The Gests were expected to be VH1's answer to The Osbournes. The producer and his songbird bride may have seemed like a strange choice for the music network hoping for a hit, but then who knew shots of Ozzy's pups defecating on Persian rugs would attract such a dedicated following?

All told VH1 shot some 60 hours of the couple shopping, eating and mingling with their famous friends.

Problems allegedly came to a head during one of the all-star cocktail parties held at the couple's Manhattan apartment, when producers stepped in to script the reality series. Executive producer Robert Weiss purportedly wanted to bump performances by golden oldies Ray Charles and Luther Vandross in favor of hot, young thangs Michelle Branch and Kelly Rowland from Destiny's Child.

"If you don't put Kelly Rowland and Michelle Branch on to perform, I am canceling the show," threatened Weiss, per court documents (the complete text of the lawsuit is available on the Smoking Gun Website).

Branch and Rowland never performed. A week later the series was deep-sixed.

At the time, a VH1 spokesperson explained the reasoning behind the cancelation thusly: "We weren't given the kind of access and cooperation we needed to make the show work"

A source close to the production put it more bluntly. "We discovered what a lot of people already knew: David Gest is impossible to work with." The unnamed source's comments, quoted in the New York Post, are now a part of the lawsuit.

VH1 refused to comment on the legal action.

Minnelli, the 56-year-old daughter of Judy Garland, has won Oscar, Tony and Emmy Awards. Music-industry impresario Gest, who produced Jackson's 30th anniversary special last year, met his wife through the moonwalker.

The couple, whose gaudy March wedding prompted a media frenzy, recently confirmed they are going ahead with plans to adopt a little girl. The child is due to join the Gest-Minnelli household by the end of January.